Kerr wrote about the Holocaust in a way children could understand
Jewish and German-born British writer and illustrator Judith Kerr died on May 22, 2019 at the age of 95. She was still producing stories and illustrations well into her 90s.
Kerr is best known in the Jewish community for “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit,” a semi-autobiographical account of her family’s escape from Nazi-occupied Germany. Kerr later turned “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit” into a trilogy of Holocaust-themed books by adding “Bombs on Aunt Dainty“ and “A Small Person Far Away.”
“When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit” became a set text in German schools. It is also an offering of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation-supported PJ Library program, which sends 220,000 books each month to Jewish-identified children.
Born in 1923, a child of the pre-war German intelligentsia, Kerr was forced to flee with her parents when Adolf Hitler came to power. Her father, Alfred Kerr, had been a theater critic and columnist in Berlin, and openly criticized the Nazis both in his writing and in weekly radio broadcasts
He left immediately for Prague, to be joined later by his wife and two children who traveled by train to the Swiss border. A day later, the Gestapo arrived at their home to arrest them.
The family came to London via Paris in 1936, when Judith was 13. Kerr was already showing promise as an artist during the family’s time in Berlin and was touched to discover as an adult that, when the family was forced to flee, among the few possessions her mother had packed were Judith’s childhood drawings and paintings.
In London, Kerr learned English, trained as a secretary, worked for the Red Cross during the war, and later won a scholarship to the Central School of Arts and Crafts.
When her son protested the books he was learning to read from were too boring, she embarked on the Mog series: 17 picture books in total about a family cat, the first published in 1970.
Then after 30 years, she wrote “Goodbye Mog” in which Mog died. It was an almost unprecedented move for a children’s writer.
Kerr had confronted the possibility of death as a child, and said she wrote for those many children in Nazi-occupied Europe who — unlike her — did not survive to live full and happy lives.